Chalk it up to another surprise in the parenting adventure: I decided to give sleep training a try. Something I was against at first. For those who don’t know, there are various methods to sleep training, but most involve crying — both you and your baby. I had heard from several people, when I was in the throes of the sleep-deprived early months, that “It’s ok to let them cry” or “Sometimes, you just gotta let them cry themselves to sleep.” And as a new mom, I thought, no fucking way. Not only could I not listen to my baby cry (seriously, it pains my heart) but to not respond to it? Why don’t you just stick a needle in my eye?
I remember an episode of “Mad About You” when Paul and Jamie are outside their kid’s door, holding each other in their arms, crying and struggling to not repond to their crying baby. And at the time, it didn’t phase me much. My mom was a believer in the cry it out method. I’m sure I cried it out when I was a kid. I think I filed it away as something parents just have to do at some point. No big deal. But for some reason that image stayed with me, that one of them visibly shaken while not responding to their child’s anguished cries. And whenever someone suggested to me that sleep training works, that letting your baby cry themselves to sleep is normal, I’d have a viseral reaction and picture that image from that show.
And then we hit a wall. Well, let me rephrase. My husband had hinted about the “just let her cry” approach a few times, and I always said “no way” or even “over my dead body.” And then I hit a wall. It suddenly became clear to me that what we were doing wasn’t going to get us any sleep anytime soon.
We had a routine with Little C. All the experts say a routine is important, so the child knows what’s coming and is expected of them. I knew I didn’t want to make it too complicated (I can picture Charlie at 4, demanding to have the routine she’s become accustumed to – bath, book, bottle, rocking, singing, etc. – and we just want her to GO TO BED ALREADY. So nothing too long or involved.) We settled into this: We (either me or DH – we switch off bedtime duty) put her into PJs and a sleep sack, put socks over her hands (so she doesn’t scratch her face), and rock her while feeding her her last bottle. Usually she’d be asleep before finishing the bottle, but if not, then she gets her pacifier, and we rock her to sleep before gently setting her down in her crib, turning on her white noise machine and tip-toeing out the door.
Turns out, you’re not supposed to rock your baby to sleep. But try to picture for the moment the cutest, sweetest little sleepy baby in your arms. And watching them slow blink while looking at you with heavy-lidded adorableness and then sighing their way into peaceful sleep in your arms. Nice, right? Why not do that? It’s awesome.
But then… Charlie started waking up crying multiple times a night. She’d cry and look at me like “Why aren’t you picking me up? Mom, you’re right there! Please help me!” And because I was the one who would hear her in the night most times, I’d be the one getting up and going in there and picking her up, settling back down in the rocking chair and rocking her back to sleep. And I lived with that for some time. And it was survivable. Not ideal, but this is parenthood, right? It comes with sleep deprivation. And rocking your baby back to sleep once a night wasn’t the worst thing.
But then… it started happening more than once a night. The lack of sleep started to get to me, and I’d poke DH awake and mumble, “You’re turn.” He’d wake up confused, and I’d have to explain, “She’s crying. Go help her.” And off he’d go, to do the same rock-back-to-sleep thing. Sometimes we’d pull a bottle out and feed her back to sleep too — another no-no when your baby has reached the age and weight stage where they can night wean. We were probably overfeeding her, but when you’re desperate, you’ll try anything.
And then one night… one awful night, we took turns doing it — about every hour. And at one point, DH fell asleep in the rocking chair while holding her (she’s on a huge nursing pillow in our laps, so she’s safe) and I woke up an hour later and went in to wake him and help him gently set her down. “This is not the solution,” I whispered, and I realized that we had to try something else.
I did a little reading and bought a book online, but before the book was delivered, I just decided to listen to my instincts and try something myself. After her bottle/rock, I put her down sleepy but not asleep. I gave her her pacifier and said, “Time to go night-night,” turned on her white noise and left the room. Of course she cried. I waited about 30 seconds-1 minute and then went back in and gave her the pacifier back, patted her gently and walked back out. And we did this for while, and I’d stand outside her door for maybe 2 minutes tops, or whenever I couldn’t take it anymore, and I’d go in and do it again. She’d roll on her stomach sometimes, so I’d have to roll her back. But the crying didn’t get too crazy. She was tired after all. It was more of a “I don’t like this one bit, Mom” cry more than “OH MY GOD WHY WON’T YOU RESCUE ME?” cry. It was tolerable.
After maybe 15-20 minutes, it was over. She took her pacifier, rolled onto her side and fell asleep. I just about shat myself. Could it really be this easy? Is this just a fluke? She woke up once maybe that night. And the next few nights, it got easier — 10 minutes of fussing, tops. Usually, she wakes up a few times in her first 3 hours after falling asleep, so we go in and give her the pacifier back (I can’t wait for the day she can find it herself!) and then she’s out. And then, right about the time my husband and I are both in bed … she sleeps through the night.
You guys. I can’t believe it, but it’s working. Sleep training is working. She’s learning to sooth herself to sleep. She still cries a little, but one night she was in a good mood and just cooed, squeeked and sang herself to sleep. It was beautiful.
I got my sleep book, by the way – The Sleepeasy Solution. I read the two chapters on sleep training a baby right away, and it turns out my intincts are pretty good. They recommend you don’t touch the baby when you go back in, and they recommend waiting 5 min, then 10 min, then 15 mintues before returning, a length of time I’m just not comfortable with. But for the most part, I’m already doing it, and it makes sense. I’m learning as I go here, and it’s not perfect (Charlie has started waking at the crack of dawn), and I know it could all change tomorrow, but for now, it’s working. We’re all getting more sleep. Hooray!